(One of) France’s best kept secrets

Fara and I arrived in Paris a few days ago. Just as an arctic front came in from Siberia that dropped the temperatures to negative numbers (in Celsius) and has covered Europe with a blanket of snow. The friends we spent Christmas with in Dublin ended up with several feet of the white stuff. Thankfully Paris avoided the worst of the weather and after a couple of days keeping warm in our apartment we have been able to get out and enjoy the city. Makes it hard to believe we’re a few days into March already. After about a week in Paris, we will be taking the train to Zagreb, Croatia to start the Eastern Europe leg of our journey.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that we had taken advantage of the special “Temporary Transit” short term car lease program in France. After four-plus months of driving our trusty Renault Kadjar around the UK, Ireland, Belgium and France, it is now time to bid it a fond farewell. As promised, I’m devoting this week’s post to explaining what I know about the program and my impressions after our first time using it. I’m not sure where I first heard of it, as it is not widely promoted. In fact, we encountered few people living in France who even knew such a program exists, although many have unknowingly taken advantage of it when buying a used car. I’m sure it was on some travel forum when I was researching cheaper options than the traditional car rental.

So here’s how it works in a nutshell. A non-EU resident leases a brand new French manufactured car for a period of at least 21 days. Since it is intended for tourists, the lease is tax free; a little like duty free shopping. When the car is returned, it can be sold at a steep discount to what a brand new car would cost, in part because the taxes on a used car are less than new. A win for the lessee, a win for the used car buyer, and a win for the car manufacturer. As far as I can tell the only loser might be the French government, but the indirect benefit to the auto industry probably outweighs the lost tax revenue. I’m a little surprised that there aren’t similar programs in other countries. I’m talking to you Germany, imagine hordes of tourists driving around Europe promoting BMW, Mercedes and Audi for the low price of a few thousand Euros in lost taxes.

Reserving your vehicle

From the consumer standpoint, leasing through the TT program begins very similar to any car rental. You can book through the TT web site or go directly to Renault, Peugeot, or Citroën. I worked directly with Renault, but I suspect that going through the TT site will eventually get you to the individual manufacturer’s system as they are who you actually lease with. You choose your dates, pick-up/drop-off locations and vehicle. Then you enter your personal and payment info. So far, so good. Here’s where my experience deviated from a normal rental. First of all, the vehicle is being leased and there is a lot more paperwork involved. They require at least 3 weeks for processing and delivery so this is not a program for last minute rentals. I started the process 22 days before my requested pick-up, so I knew I was cutting things a little close. Within a few hours of submitting my request, I received email and phone calls from Renault to make sure I understood that time was of the essence and any delays from my end could jeopardize the delivery of my car. Normally the paperwork is sent to the lessee via snail mail to be filled out and mailed back. Due to my rush order, they would have to email me the documents so I could print them myself and fax them back. At the time we were in Portugal without a printer let alone a fax machine. After many assurances that I knew what I was doing, I got them to agree to allow me to fill out and sign the PDFs directly from my computer and email them back. Hard to believe that in the late 2010’s we’re still being asked to shuffle hard copies and use fax machines. The only other issue that could have been avoided by starting the process earlier was in vehicle selection. My intent was to lease a Dacia Duster (mid-size crossover by Renault’s off brand). Despite their reservation system saying it was available, I received a phone call a few days later saying I’d have to pick something else. This ended up working to our advantage because they offered me a discount on a Renault Kadjar, which is arguably a better and more expensive vehicle, for only a couple dollars a day more. Which leads me to the final surprising difference to a rental, you are required to pay for the lease in full prior to pick-up. Not really an issue, but it does require a several thousand dollar commitment before you get there.

Pick-up

We picked up the vehicle from Charles de Gaulle airport, which as you may know is a bit of a mess to get around in. When I made the reservation, I was asked for my arrival details but also told to call a few days ahead of time to confirm, which I did. Little good it did, because the people at CDG just told me to call again once I got to the airport and they’d send the shuttle for me. So the day of my arrival, I called them again to let them know I’m there and ready to pick up my car and they directed me not to the rental car shuttle area, but to a rather obscure pick up area used by private town cars. It actually took two more phone calls for me to find someone who spoke good enough English to refine the directions enough to get me to the right door in the right terminal, but we did get there. Had we been anywhere other than one of the busiest international airports in the world, it probably would have gone more smoothly. Despite the rocky start, the rest of the pick-up process was a breeze. Arrive at the TT transit center (one place for all the manufacturers), sign a few more documents and get a quick run through of the features of the car. In and out in less than an hour. The car itself was literally straight off the assembly line, it still had the protective film and other packing materials stuck to it. They gave us enough fuel to make it to the nearest service station and a long list of numbers to call if anything goes wrong and sent us on our way.

On the road

Not much to tell here. The Kadjar is a pretty good vehicle. Not sure I’d ever buy one, but it was great for the four months we had it. Being a new car under warranty, had there been any problems we could have taken it to any Renault garage to get it taken care of, but thankfully I didn’t have go that route. My only complaint was that it was never obvious how to switch from kilometers to miles. Luckily I’m pretty good at adding multiples of 16 (10 mph = 16 kmph), so converting UK speed limits to what my speedometer was telling me was a fun mental exercise while driving. Which brings up another thing to keep in mind. You can have a TT car delivered to the UK for pick-up (for a small fee, of course), but the car will still be a French configuration. So don’t lease one if you are at all squeamish about driving a left-hand-drive car while on the left side of the road.

Drop-off

When we picked up the car, they make it clear that the car must be returned with all the keys, owner’s manual and safety kit (vest, hazard triangle, etc) or there would be a charge for each missing item. The car needed to be clean or there could be another charge. Nothing to worry about, but we did make sure that everything was where it should be the day before. We even took it to a car wash on the way to CDG, but because of the arctic weather the car looked just as bad after the bath as it did before. All that “worry” was for naught. When we showed up the agent at the desk was more annoyed that I hadn’t made an appointment (which I had) than anything else. We only needed to hand over the keys and sign a few documents to give ownership of the car back to Renault and we could be on our way. They didn’t even want to know if there was anything wrong with the car. It actually took longer to load back up into the shuttle and head to the airport than it did to complete the transaction. Like the pick-up experience, it may have been different at a less busy location.

The bottom line

So what did this entire experience cost us? Our lease for 136 days came to a total price of $3,472 which breaks down to a very reasonable $25.53 per day. Base price for renting a similarly sized vehicle from a traditional car rental company would be at least as much and could easily be double that amount. I need to stress that looking at a traditional rental car versus a TT lease is like comparing apples to apple pie. The lease includes a laundry list of “extras” at no additional cost:

  • Choice of the make and model. We were also given a choice of gas/diesel fuel, manual/automatic transmission and 2WD/4WD. The only thing we didn’t have input into was the color. Yes, the first vehicle we chose wasn’t available, but they made it right by offering an upgrade at a discount. The vehicle will be brand new and well equipped with a GPS.
  • Zero deductible insurance, road side assistance and manufacturer’s warranty. Essentially anything that could go wrong with the car was covered. We didn’t have to use any of these while on the road, so I can’t comment on how well they work. I will admit that I had an incident with a rock wall and my rear bumper resulting in a small dent. We brought it back with no worries knowing the insurance would cover it.
  • Unlimited “mileage” anywhere in Europe. We’ve noticed more and more European rental companies have started limiting the number off kilometers per day included in the base price with steep charges for overages. Additionally there may be a charge for driving to another country or using a ferry. Taking a rental outside the approved areas may run the risk of not having insurance coverage if anything happens. This is common if renting in a Western European country and taking it into Eastern Europe.
  • One-way lease. There are no extra charges for picking up and dropping off at different locations other than the normal destination charges for each location. Within France there are no destination charges, other countries could be a few hundred dollars. They are also flexible about when/where the vehicle is dropped off. As long as you give them a few days’ notice, the drop off location can be changed at no cost other than the destination charges for outside of France. Extending a lease is just as simple with pre-defined per day costs.

Overall our experience with a “Temporary Transit” lease was very positive and we’d consider using it again if the opportunity arises. Renault offers a loyalty discount program where you get 5/10% discounts after 5/10 leases respectively. That said, we’d consider one of the other manufacturers depending on what they offer. Planning ahead is key to avoid hitting any of the last minute snags we ran into with this first lease.

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